Telecommunications:

GSA Has Made Progress in Planning Governmentwide Program but Challenges Remain

GAO-04-1085T: Published: Sep 15, 2004. Publicly Released: Sep 15, 2004.

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The General Services Administration (GSA) has begun planning for a governmentwide telecommunications program known as Networx. GSA issued a request for information in October 2003 that proposed two acquisitions: Networx Universal, which was to provide a full range of national and international network services across the United States, and Networx Select, which was to provide agencies with leading-edge services with less extensive geographic coverage. Contracts under the Select acquisition were to be awarded 9 months after the Universal In February, we testified on GSA's initial plans and identified four key challenges GSA faced in ensuring a successful outcome for the program: structure and scheduling, transition planning, service inventories, and performance measures. GAO assessed GSA's progress in addressing the challenges identified as well as GSA's efforts to address long-standing issues related to billing.

GSA has addressed several of the significant challenges facing the Networx program. Work is either planned or underway on other challenges, but additional efforts will be necessary to fully address them. Specifically, GSA has addressed concerns about the structure and scheduling of the two acquisitions, now known as Universal and Enterprise. Instead of a 9-month lag between acquisitions that might complicate agency decision-making, GSA now plans to issue the requests for proposal (RFP) for the contracts simultaneously. In addition, the Universal contracts will now require that offerors provide services only where federal agencies are located, rather than in the entire country, to allow more potential industry participants to compete--a concern raised in prior comments. GSA has solicited for contractor support to assist with the development of plans to transition to the Networx contracts. However, GSA has not yet developed procedures to ensure that lessons from past transitions are applied, or established a transition strategy. GSA worked with agencies to develop a service-level inventory as input into the requirements for the new contracts. In addition, it plans to work with agencies to build a more detailed inventory of currently-used telecommunications services for use during transition. GSA plans to implement performance measures that evaluate progress against the program's goals. However, some of the measures are still under development, and it does not have a strategy for using the measures to monitor ongoing program performance. GSA has reduced the number of billing elements it will track and has begun a study designed to identify potential improvements in the billing process, but it lacks a strategy for addressing agency concerns about the usability of billing data. Until GSA develops and applies strategies for addressing the outstanding challenges facing Networx, it risks not being able to deliver all of the operations and cost improvements outlined in the program's goals.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In July 2007, GSA developed a timeline for the transition to Networx with milestones and events such as contract award, agency fair opportunity process, a period for transitioning telecommunications services, and the expiration of transition reimbursements. Regarding the development of procedures to prevent the recurrence of identified transition difficulties, GSA coordinated with agencies through the Interagency Management Council and issued the Networx Transition Pre-Award Guide. This guide recognizes the value of applying lessons learned from previous transitions and identifies activities that agencies can undertake to reduce the time and costs associated with the transition effort.

    Recommendation: To prevent repeating the transition problems experienced in the past, and to ensure that transition plans are developed with adequate time to be implemented, GSA should develop a transition timeline and procedures to prevent the reoccurrence of identified difficulties from previous transitions.

    Agency Affected: General Services Administration

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: GSA has not yet addressed this recommendation. GSA drafted performance measures for the Networx transition, and, according to GSA's Director for Network Services Programs, they were never finalized. At this point the official does not believe that GSA will finalize them or actively use them for ongoing program management.

    Recommendation: Until GSA develops a firm strategy, it lacks assurance that the required program measures will be in place at the appropriate time. As a result, its measures may have limited effect as a program management tool. Therefore, GSA should finalize its efforts to identify measures to evaluate progress towards program goals and develop a strategy for using those measures for ongoing program management.

    Agency Affected: General Services Administration

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: To address this recommendation, GSA identified a strategy for addressing billing concerns. Specifically, the Networx contracts include service level agreements that hold the contractors accountable for the accuracy of the billing data they provide and a requirement that contractors assign a unique identifier to each transaction, which agencies believe will improve both billing and inventory management.

    Recommendation: Regardless of the plans of industry, if GSA does not develop a billing process that better meets the needs of its customers, the agencies are likely to continue to experience difficulties in managing their telecommunications costs. To better address this challenge, GSA should develop and implement a strategy for addressing the billing data issues raised by its customer agencies.

    Agency Affected: General Services Administration

 

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